Boreal Heartland Herbal Products Inc is Indigenous owned and operated, began in 2017 and is based in Air Ronge, SK, Canada. It is an initiative of Keewatin Community Development Association, a longstanding, northern, non-profit organization dedicated to supporting career, education, business, and economic development in the northern Saskatchewan region.
Boreal Heartland was started with 3 ambitious goals:
- Provide sustainable income opportunities in Northern Saskatchewan, a region with only 38% employment (small towns, few industries), that supports the “Northern lifestyle” (outdoorsy, land stewardship, flexible).
- Showcase the abundance and intrinsic value of boreal forest flora on a global scale. Our forest is so much more than “moose pasture” or a place for logging.
- Ensure all aspects of the business promote environmental and social sustainability.
How do we accomplish all this?
Each spring we provide GACP training, which is the current gold standard for foraged products, for prospective harvesters in various communities. Harvesters work in their own time and we pay fair prices by the pound. Approximately 75 individuals bring plants in between June and August. Some harvest by the truck load, while families with kids bring in boxes or bags. Harvesting can be a livelihood, a teen’s first pay cheque, family activity or bonus money to spoil the grandkids with a trampoline. 90% of harvesters are Indigenous and most work on family traplines or traditional territory. We work with communities across the north including Ile a la Crosse, Jans Bay, Cole Bay, Beauval, Stanley Mission, La Ronge, Air Ronge, Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Hall Lake, Weyakwin, Deschambault, and Pelican Narrows. We also hire seasonal staff to help process the plants.
Not just anyone can work in “the bush”. It’s hard work out in the weather, with the bugs and wildlife, on uneven terrain. Knowing where to go and how to get back safely with quality products takes a lot of specialized “bush craft”. But that’s the Northern lifestyle. It’s local knowledge passed down and we hope it continues. We depend on the knowledge and skill of the community to sustainably harvest in the summer months all the plants we need for a full year of production. We couldn’t do it without them! We are committed to keeping control of the business and the subsequent economic benefits in the North. Headquarters, processing and packaging facilities (CFIA licensed) are all located in Air Ronge, SK.
The boreal forest has supported the life and well-being of people since the last glaciers retreated (~8000 years). It is a good place, although its heritage is largely unknown outside Northern communities. However, we are striving to change that! We blend traditional flavours in ways that appeal to the modern palate. Our 4 flagship teas blend herbs that were traditionally consumed by Indigenous people (for thousands of years!) for their healthfulness and flavour.
But tea isn’t all we do! We also supply fresh (in season) and dehydrated golden chanterelle mushrooms which are considered a gourmet product by those in the know. Our bulk herbs are found in health food stores, have been used in ice cream, and are frequently used by innovative breweries and distilleries to elevate their products.
There are myriad ways to enjoy a taste of the boreal forest. If you can’t visit in person, we’ll bring the experience to you. Shop our site or find a store near you. Try us out!
Commitment to Sustainability.
Respect for the boreal ecosystem is integral to our business model. We have a number of initiatives to help us understand what a sustainable harvest is.
- We have an Indigenous advisory board made up of knowledgeable community members and elders that help direct us in appropriate harvest practices.
- Many harvesters work on their family trapline or in traditional territories that they visit regularly throughout the year. They are knowledgeable and self-motivated to maintain the integrity of their family areas.
-Our harvester training teaches the “rule of thirds”. When harvesting in a specific area one-third is left for the animals, one-third for the plants to regenerate and one-third can be harvested for human consumption.
- We are continually working towards mapping plant abundance across the north (surveys and satellite imagery).
- We have a firm policy to never harvest plants that are ranked S3 or higher (rarer) by the Saskatchewan Government and the plants we do harvest are all incredibly common and abundant in our area.
- Our harvests work around seasonal variation in nature. Wet weather can drown the mint patches but helps mushrooms thrive. After fires morels and fireweed are abundant.